Murdoch likes his killing. Good for biz.
* PANEL KISSES UP TO IRAN & SYRIA
* PLAN WOULD PULL TROOPS OUT IN '08
NILES LATHEM Post Correspondent
IRAQ 'APPEASE' SQUEEZE ON W.
NILES LATHEM Post Correspondent
December 7, 2006 -- What do you think of the report’s recommendations? Click the discussion board link below the photo to post your comments.
Click here for the Iraq Study Group Report (PDF)
WASHINGTON - The Iraq Study Group report delivered to President Bush yesterday contains 79 separate recommendations - but not one that explains how American forces can defeat the terrorist insurgents, only ways to bring the troops home.
Declaring the situation "grave and deteriorating," the high-powered commission proposed the United States talk directly to terror abettors Iran and Syria to get their cooperation, and commit to removing U.S. combat troops in early 2008.
In a major policy report presented to Bush and Congress, the panel also recommended taking a harder line with the fledgling Iraqi government by threatening to reduce or cut off military and financial support unless it does more to crack down on militia death squads.
Reaction to the much-anticipated report was swift:
* President Bush called it a "tough" assessment of U.S. involvement in Iraq and said he would treat all of its recommendations seriously, but he didn't publicly embrace any of the proposals.
* White House spokesman Tony Snow later rejected the call for America to have open dialogue with enemy Iran, saying that could happen only after the Islamic state halted uranium enrichment.
* Democrats in Congress heartily embraced the study, saying it offered Bush some good ideas, and put the burden on him to accept some of them.
* Republicans generally had a polite but noncommittal response.
* In Iraq, U.S. troops said they didn't believe that Baghdad's own forces were prepared yet to take over security, and questioned whether GIs could come home in 2008, as the report urged.
Meanwhile, as the report was being debated, 10 American troops were killed in Iraq in four separate attacks amid worsening violence.
Critics said the study was foolish to suggest pressuring the Iraqi government to do more when it's not yet capable.
"Simply calling for a weak and divided Iraqi government to act in the face of all the forces that are tearing it apart is almost feckless," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It comes far too close to having the U.S. threaten to take its ball and go home if the Iraqis do not play the game our way."
The group's chairman, Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker, warned that "there is no magic formula to solve the problems in Iraq" - but added, in a stinging rebuke to the president, "We can no longer afford to stay the course."
"Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward," added former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the group's Democratic co-chairman.
The panel, made up of five prominent Democrats and five prominent Republicans, offered a total of 79 comprehensive political, military and diplomatic and other recommendations.
The report was released as pressure mounted on Bush to come up with an exit strategy from Iraq amid rising opposition to a war that has resulted in the deaths of 2,900 U.S. troops and injuries to close to 21,000 servicemen and women.
It warns of even greater chaos and bloodshed, which could spread outside Iraq if action is not taken soon to change policy.
"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a human catastrophe," the report said.
"Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the U.S. could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized," the report continued.
The commission recommended that the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis be increased dramatically, from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000.
Commission member William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said those could be drawn from combat brigades already in Iraq.
Yesterday morning, a stoic Bush listened to the panel's report at a White House meeting with all 10 commission members and said later he would take the recommendations "seriously."
"We applaud your work. We take it very seriously and we'll act on it in a timely fashion," Bush told the panel at a meeting in the White House Cabinet Room.
But aides were quick to point out that the president is also waiting for findings of special study groups at the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department before making final decisions about any midcourse correction on Iraq.
That decision could involve "cherry-picking" different proposals from different reports, according to White House officials.
But the Baker panel's report contained many recommendations that Bush is certain to oppose - at least for now.
It calls for direct talks with Syria and Iran - two nations the Bush administration believes are fomenting the violence in Iraq.
The talks would be part of a regional diplomatic offensive that would also seek solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian clash and the conflict in Lebanon.
"If we don't talk to them, we don't see much progress being made," Hamilton said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
"You can't look at this part of the world and pick and chose which countries you're going to deal with."
Israeli officials were alarmed with a line in the report that said a negotiated peace with the Palestinians should address their "right of return." That's a highly controversial demand, rejected by Israel, for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to Israeli land.
On the military side, the Baker commission is calling for the transformation of the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq from a combat to a support and advisory role.
It would accomplish this by "redeploying" 15 U.S. combat brigades by the first quarter of 2008 and increasing fivefold the number of U.S. trainers embedded in Iraqi military units.
However, the report calls for special rapid reaction teams and Special Forces to remain in the area to fight al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.
"Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating," the report said. "The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out."
The commission also briefed members of the Baghdad government by teleconference, and one official there agreed that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own security.
"Absolute dependence on foreign troops is not possible," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.
Even though the Baker commission stopped short of endorsing Democratic calls for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops by a certain date, newly empowered congressional Democrats embraced the report.
"The report underscores the message the American people sent one month ago. There must be change and there is no time to lose," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nev.) told reporters.
In another major recommendation for change in policy, the Baker panel called for a tougher approach to Iraq's Shiite-dominated government.
It said Iraqi leaders should do more to disarm militias and achieve national reconciliation, and called for talking - and even giving amnesty - to insurgent leaders, including rabidly anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the U.S. should reduce its political, military and economic support for the Iraqi government," the report said.
Many analysts initially believed the bipartisan panel would provide political cover for both sides for a U.S. exit from Iraq.
But the atmosphere between the panel and the White House has grown tense in recent weeks because of news stories that Baker, a close friend and confidant of Bush's father, ex-President George H. W. Bush, was part of an effort by the father to get his son out of political trouble.